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  • 3/6/2012

NOWRUZ IN THE PRE-ISLAMIC PERIOD

(part 5)

norooz

It and the other calendars all have month names, which, according to various small indications, were introduced in the Achaemenian period sometime after the main calendar reform.  This was presumably a purely devotional measure, by which the month names of the YAv. calendar (which, as we have seen, were probably mundane) were replaced by religious ones.  These (keeping innovation to a minimum) were chosen from among the day names: but since there was no Avestan authority to follow in this case, some latitude seems to have been given to regional priesthoods.  One variation occurs in the naming of the firs month, which in the MP and Pth. calendars is devoted to the Fravashis (with use of the gen. pl. Fravardؤ«n, “[month] of the F.”‌), but in the Sogd., ل¸´var and Arm.  Ones is given to the “[spirit] of the New Year (Navasard)”‌, while in the Arm. Alone it is the twelfth month (otherwise assigned to Spة™nta Armaiti / Spendarmad) which is dedicated to the Fravashis (also with a gen. pl., Hrotits / Hrotic).  In this case the Persians and others appear to have been influenced by the duplication of observances which had brought it about that the Fravshis were thought to remain at their old homes till I.5, and so, by naming the first month for them, they may have been stressing this, and with it the paramount importance of the Great Nowruz; whereas the Armenians plainly chose rather to honour the Fravashis with thought of their coming on the night of XII.25. In so doing they appear truer to an age-old tradition that the feast of souls belongs to the old year and winter with its darkness.

The giving of month names resulted in the inauguration of a new series of feasts of a type previously unknown in Zoroastriansim but common in Near Eastern religions ”” festivities dedicated simply to a single divinity;  for whenever a month and day name were the same, that day was declared to be the feast of the divinity concerned. (The term for these feasts, MP jashn <Av. yasna-, indicates their essentially religious intention.)  So for the Armenians XII.19 would have become the “jashn of the Fravashis”‌, whereas for others this jashn was on I.19.  This feast, as later Zoroastrian usage attests (see below), was sharply distinguished from the ancient night-time observance, which even when extended into the Rozan Fravardؤ«gan, was celebrated within the home.  But at this day-time once people went out to the daل¸µmas (q.v.), and there, after a religious service (essentially an Afrؤ«nagan dedicated to the Fravashis), they used to feat joyously, inviting the souls of the family departed to attend and partake in communion of the consecrated food with them, drinking toasts in their honour, remembering them in story and sometimes in verse, and seeking to share with them to the full the delights of family happiness and of music and laughter.

The Achaemenian calendar reform, initiated, it seems, for what was perceived to be a practical advantage, can be considered to have damaged the Zoroastrian religious year through causing such complex duplications of holy days; but in time these duplications, and above all the 18-day observance culminating at the Greater Nowruz, came to be a joy to the devout as the protraction of times rich in worship, and to others a welcome additional holidays (although necessary work still had to be done, and only priests and the rich could have kept the full period without any secular activities).

 The real and lasting harm developed from replacing the old 360-day calendar, kept stable in relation to the seasons by intercalation, with a 365-day one used without intercalation, as has by now been established (see most recently de Blois, 1996). At its introduction, pinpointed as being in a year between 481 and 478, 1 Fravardؤ«n would have coincided with the spring equinox; but almost at once the calendar year began to recede by a day every four years against the natural year ”” a movement barely perceptible to individuals in their own lifetimes, but which by the end of the Achaemenian period would have let to dislocation of the 365-day calendar by over a month. This was especially damaging for the celebration of Nowruz, since the symbolism of spring is so deeply significant for the “New Day”‌ feast.

Nowruz under the Arsacids: The earliest evidence for state use of the Zoroastrian calendar comes from under the Arsacids, and is provided by some of the many ostraca excavated at their royal fortress of Old Nisa.  These, from the first century BCE, are dated by the year according to the Arsaid era, with the months and days of the Zoroastrian calendar (I.M. Diakonoff and V.A. Livshits, ed. D.N. MacKenzie). Two inscriptions and a legal document survive from later Arsacid reigns dated in the same way; but the dynasty’s non-Zoroastrian subjects (Hellene, Babylonian and Syrian) dated still by the Macedonian calendar made current by the Seleucids, with use of either the Arsacid or the Seleucid era, or both side by side.

The Arsacid period also provides the earliest description of Nowruz festivities. This comes from the romantic epic Vis u Ramin, which was identified by V. M. Minorsky (1946, 1947, 1954 and 1962, with all these articles collected and revised by him in 1964, pp. 151-99) as by origin a Parthian oral work, which has passed through an MP version and exists in the classical Persian rendering of Gorgani (ed. M. A. Todua and A.A. Gwakharia. French tr. by H. Massé. Eng. tr. by G. Morrison, in which the episodes are numbered as in the earlier editions by M. Minovi and M. J. Mahjub.  For further bibliography see de Blois, 1992, pp. 165-67).  The poem has plainly undergone revisions and extensions in the course of its long transmission, but much has been shown to belong to the Parthian original.  This includes the royal banquet with which the poem begins.  Not only is such a banquet a characteristic way to launch an epic, but what happens at this one is essential to the story.  The host is Mobad, lord of Marv, that is, a vassal king of the Arsacids; but in the epic his concept often blurs, as here, with that of a Parthian Great King.  So he is termed lord of the earth and greatest of all kings, and his guests are vassal kings and nobles, with their ladies, from all parts of Iran, including Pars.  The banquet is held in the open, under blossoming trees, and wine flows freely to the sound of minstrelsy and birdsong.  Meantime the King’s humbler subjects are also celebrating out of doors, in field and garden, likewise with wine and music, some racing their horses, others dancing or picking flowers; and in the days that follow the King rides out, magnificently attended, and distributes largess lavishly. (Ed. Todua and Gwakharia, pp. 34-35. tr. Morrison, pp. 19-21.)

Source: iranica


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Astrology & Astronomy in Iran and Ancient Mesopotamia (part 3)  

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